A friend recently finished the first draft of a book which has taken a year of writing every day. Announcing the completion of the 90000-word first draft to his friends, he said, among other things, that the work was ‘…written by a man who cares nothing for his old status as a writer.’.
Reading his Facebook post got me thinking about a concept called Ahunkara. The concept, which originates from within Sanātana Dharma (the body of sacred wisdom now commonly referred to as Hinduism), basically refers to the idea of self-consciousness. What is significant here is the word self and how it is not capitalised. In other words, it is not a consciousness of the Higher Self or the real Self; rather it is a consciousness of the bodily, material self, that inhabits and interacts with the physical world.
This lower (for want of a better word) self is the self we present to the world as ‘us’, as who we are. But it is more than this: Ahunkara refers to the way we define ourselves according to our place in the material world.
When we meet someone new, a common part of the opening pleasantries is the question,
‘So, what do you do?’ Now, when you’ve asked that question of a new acquittance, what was your experience? What has been the answer? Invariably I think it is safe to say, your new acquaintance has replied with something like,
‘Well, I am a … ‘. We most often introduce ourselves with a label: ‘I am a teacher’, or ‘I am a plumber/artist/carpenter/bus driver/nurse/’. You get the idea. We define ourselves to others as well as to ourselves by what we do in the world, usually according to how we earn money, or what we do as a career. We are, according to this labelling what we do in the world.
Of course, we do need to have a way to place ourselves in the world, and in relationship to others. As well, we need to offer clues to assist others in placing us within their world. But, why do we need to provide this identification by labelling ourselves? Why do we need to limit our own view of ourselves to ourselves as well as to others?
The answer, you would have guessed by now, is that we don’t. Like my friend, you can free yourself from the label. For him that label was for many years, ‘I am a writer’. Now, to put it simply, you can, like he did, answer the ‘What do you do?’ question with a succinct statement such as ‘Well, among other things I write.’
Yes, it is true that labelling self and others does—at least at first—simplify communications and the building of relationship. I mean, let’s say your trade is plumbing. Surely it’s simpler to say, ‘I am a plumber’? Everyone knows what a plumber does, right?
But, is a plumber really what you are? Don’t you just do plumbing as a job 9 to 5, five days a week (or something like that)? What do you do in the evenings? How do you spend your weekends? Perhaps you write poetry, or draw. Maybe you build model boats, or play the piano.
And which is more important in your life, to your wellbeing, to your happiness? Sure, the plumbing pays the bills and feeds, houses, and clothes you, but what lifts your spirit? Which of the things that you do makes you feel most alive?
Well, whether you have the label plumber, doctor, lawyer, bank teller, shopkeeper, or in fact any number of possible trades, professions, and ‘things we do for a living’, you will likely answer these questions with something like: ‘Well I need my job to pay the bills but I really love and even live for playing the piano/building model boats/writing my family history/the list goes on.’
These questions and this answer are about that other Self, the one with the capital S. The Self that is the real you, the Self that is in relationship with God, Spirit, Universal energy, whatever you call that spark that is life, and love, and joy. All that good stuff, you know?
So, next time someone says to you, ‘So, what do you do?’, what are you going to answer?
‘Well actually I’ve just started a scale model of the Titanic’, or
‘Good question. In fact, next week I have my first solo singing role with the choir I’ve been in for years’, or
‘Don’t ask. I’ve been stuck on Chapter 3 of my novel for weeks and it’s driving me nuts’, or
‘Well for the last few years I’ve been working on a new way to plumb kitchen sinks. I’ve found as I repair kitchen taps that they’re not as efficient as they might be’.
Anyway, you who are reading this, what do you do?